The Absolute Sound’s 2004 Golden Ear Awards

Film/Music Recommendations

The Absolute Sound’s 2004
Golden Ear Awards

Welcome to our annual Music Golden Ear Awards, with each writer choosing up
to three of his favorite records and/or multi-disc series released in 2004,
giving equal consideration to musical and sonic merits. The selections aren’
t meant as the reviewers’ definitive Top Three from 2004, but as three of
the year’s unequivocal best.

Diamanda Galás: La Serpenta Canta. Blaise Dupuy, producer. Mute 9255 (2 CDs)
Buy CD
Diamanda Galás: Defixiones: Will and Testament, Orders From the Dead. Blaise
Dupuy, producer. Mute 9254 (2 CDs) Buy CD

An inimitable performer whose confrontational methods and avant-garde
approaches are nearly as famous as her disarming four-octave vocal range,
Diamanda Galás has returned after a five-year hiatus with two astonishing
double albums, both recorded in concert during 2001 and ’02. Each finds her
sounding demonically possessed. A solo record of voice and piano, La
Serpenta Canta is a harrowing set of blues, spiritual, soul, and country
covers that Galás’ fiery voice makes shiver, shriek, and haunt. Fiendish,
mighty, and delicate, her radical reinterpretation of traditional American
song probes the psychological depths of loss, death and horror with a stark,
sacrificial vision. Gorgeously packaged in hardcover-book form with detailed
liner notes and translations, Defixiones: Will and Testament is a
multi-language song cycle of poems that speak to Armenian, Greek, and
Assyrian genocides committed by Turkey in the early 20th century. Unearthing
atrocities condoned by the Allied Nations, Galás invokes past historical
injustices, her arresting passion and dramatic ache capturing human tragedy
in an apocalyptically surreal manner. Galás turns piano keys into sharp
icicles that prick and pierce. Faint electronic treatments provide chilling
background ambiance. Against it all, her voice hisses like a snake,
screeches like a bat, and bellows as if it were that of a sinner trapped in
the bowels of hell. On both records, intimate sonics give listeners a
carnage-splattered front seat to the world’s ongoing social and political
conflicts, and bring Galás’ transfixing grief-stricken voice up-close and
personal. Both sets close with a sensory-shattering rendition of Blind Lemon
Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” the singer’s extreme cadence
ricocheting as if the song’s two white horses are being tied together and
pulled in opposite directions until all that remain are shallow pools of

Elliott Smith: from a basement on a hill. Smith, et al., producers. Anti
86741 Buy CD

Initially deemed a suicide, Elliott Smith’s death remains an unsolved
mystery. The artist’s battles with depression, isolation, and drugs-which
provided him bittersweet inspiration, even here-were widely known. But
according to close friends, before his untimely death, the sensitive
Portland singer-songwriter was approaching life with newfound zest. If from
a basement on a hill-circumstantially Smith’s last album, 15 beautiful and
often intimate songs he completed before passing-is any indication, he wasn’
t a man planning to die. Sunshine bursts through even the thickest liquor
hangovers and pharmaceutical hazes, Smith’s mellifluous voice softly
hovering over a harmonious blend of crashing cymbals, radiant rhythms,
glowing acoustic strumming, light piano notes, and ballroom romance. He
wistfully professes to being “strung out again,” yet if this heartbreaking
and hopeful batch of radiant pop waltzes, scintillating melodies, and
shimmering poetry says anything, Smith was drunk on life’s dreams. The album
‘s sonics-from the warm washes of guitar chords to the finger-pick scraping
of strings-make it painfully evident that, like Buckley and Cobain before
him, this shooting star streaked across the sky much, much too soon.

The Clash: London Calling (Legacy Edition). Mick Jones, producer; Tony
Dixon, mastering. Columbia/Legacy 92923 (2 CDs) Buy CD
Universally and justly regarded as one of the ten best albums in rock
history, The Clash’s London Calling has been significantly expanded and
given the red-carpet treatment as a two-CD, one-DVD 25th Anniversary “Legacy
Edition.” Originally released in December 1979, the 19-song double-LP
telegraphed punk’s vital cry out to every corner of the world, lassoing
reggae, soul, rock, blues, country, funk, and jazz as no artist had
previously done. Featuring 21 unreleased performances-including four unknown
Clash songs-the long-lost Vanilla Tape recordings, finally discovered in
March by Mick Jones, fill disc two of this seminal set. Though of rough demo
quality, they’re a window on rehearsal sessions that went down at Vanilla
Studios, the London car repair shop that functioned as the setting for
material that became a generational juggernaut. Remastered and loaded with
two booklets, superb liner notes, and photos, London Calling has never
sounded better.

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